Thursday, February 19, 2004

primpin for the Lord

Who made the rule that you don't put mascara on false eyelashes, anyway? Certainly not The Lord. According to ordained minister and former theme-park hostess Tammy Faye, Jesus was a fun guy and wouldn’t have minded this or any of the other decorative liberties taken by one of his favourite accomplices.
The issue of cosmetic restraint is just one of the many beguiling questions tackled by Reverend Tammy Faye Messner in her new self-help text I Will Survive... And You Will, Too! The recently released book, whose author is firmly positioned front and centre as Inspirational Celebrity Survivor, also offers friendly advice on the correct handling of regret, love, loss and wigs.
There are also some recipes.
One topic the book doesn’t directly address is the demise of the PTL, or Praise The Lord, phenom she helped build with her former husband Jim Bakker.
During the 1980s, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker reigned as televangelism’s glitziest and most likeable couple. Despite accusations of tremendous high-living that included reports of wardrobe items being flown cross country in a private jet at a six figure cost and gold-plated plumbing fixtures, the all-crying, all-singing duo struck a chord with millions of ordinary credit-card carrying Christians.
From her home in North Carolina, with dogs Muffin and Tuppins nipping at her hot pink heels (“I painted my shoes the most gorgeous colour with nail polish!”), the Reverend explains the homespun appeal of the PTL Club.
“We were a husband and wife that loved life and we were real. I came on the air mad at Jim many times. And I told people “I’m mad at my husband today. I’m really mad at this guy today!” I’m a brutally honest person, and I think that works for people.”
“You know, life’s not perfect and we let people know that our life wasn’t perfect either.”
The world beyond Christian television learned just how imperfect the Bakkers’ lives could get when in 1987 Jim resigned from PTL following a scandal involving ministry employee and future Playboy playmate Jessica Hahn.
Allegations of shenanigans with Bible Study babes aside, the worst was to come.
Television viewers may recall the offer of lifetime partnerships to "Heritage USA", a Christian vacation park in Fort Mill, South Carolina. These partners were promised free accommodations pending availability in return for their donations. It was found that PTL did not keep its pledge and was accused of knowingly desisting from building rooms for guests and partners.
In 1988, Reverend Jim Bakker was indicted on several counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy. He was initially sentenced to 45 years of prison.
By the time Jim was paroled in 1993, he and Tammy had divorced.
So, does the new downsized, self-help propelled Tammy feel differently about prosperity preaching today?
“No, I don’t. The bible says that the worker is worthy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being able to live in a nice home and drive in a nice car.”
Tammy Faye explains that nice digs are, very often, the by-product of a Christian life. “That’s one of the exciting things about serving God. He will help you to prosper. I don’t think that’s wrong.”
The Reverend contends that media reports of their lavish lifestyle were grossly exaggerated. Their so-called mansion, she insists, was a lakeside shack with rotten floorboards.
“We were very handy and we fixed that house up and that’s where we lived almost the whole time we were at Heritage USA.”
All monies, she said, went directly to build the Ministry of Fun that was Heritage USA. “God’s people willingly paid for it.”
“We didn’t misuse that money. They said we took millions of dollars.” Indeed, that’s what they said.
The Reverend, who is still on agreeable terms with her former husband, is eager to clear this matter up – despite no question about the scandal having been asked. In a final effort to elucidate she offers, a little unhelpfully, “We didn’t live any different than anybody else who was at our economic level.”
One has to wonder if, at any interval, Tammy’s faith was tested. No, she says, it never really was, but she did find one instruction a little hard to take.
“The Bible says: In all things give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you and that was the hardest verse in the bible for me to get my head around.”
While she may not have always been able to give thanks for the dark times, she acknowledges that her experiences can help her help others as she does in her latest instructional manual.
“I was sent to earth just to help people. I’ve been through almost everything a person can go through. I’ve been through cancer, I’ve been through great loss.”
“I went to the top. The very top you can go. Except maybe president of the United States.”
She has, she says, visited the bottom in the last decade. And now she is residing “somewhere in the middle”.
This middle ground, for a High Trailer artefact like Tammy Faye, definitely seems fertile.
Beginning in the year 2000, Messner began to stalk the terrain truly befitting any oddball American who might have been written by David Lynch.
Her first legitimate stop in Weirdsville USA was the Sundance film festival for her own premiere. The camp, faintly artsy and wildly sympathetic documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye narrated by former Drag Superstar RuPaul introduced her to a gay congregation. Despite the fact that she thinks gay marriage is wrong and that homosexuality is a sin (“But no worse than any other sin. I’d rather talk to a homosexual than a liar or a cheat.”) her flock of fruits is growing.
The film, she says, “changed my life”.
In the last year or so, she’s shared a bill in San Francisco with John Waters. “He’s a nice man,” she says of the celebrated oddity “he just has a dirty mouth and a dirty mind. So after he finished, I said to the audience ‘I got a mop and I’m gonna clean up after John Waters!’”
I ask if an Internet rumour that she will duet with Marilyn Manson has any substance. “Well, no honey. What happened was he came into town to do a concert and he asked if he could meet with me. Well, I’m not gonna say no! So we met at a television station and we talked about God for two hours.”
She has also been talking God recently with moustachioed porn protagonist Ron Jeremy. She and Jeremy have been teamed with former CHiPs television star Erik Estrada and eighties white rap embarrassment Vanilla Ice for a Big Brother style reality experiment called Surreal Life.
The Reverend is thrilled about the premiere of her new show on America’s WB. “I have a 64 foot billboard up on Times Square and I ‘m on all the buses in New York.”
She cites Surreal Life as “one of the top ten experiences of my life”. Somehow, it’s hardly surprising that several of Tammy’s fondest memories have been caught on tape.
Tammy Faye is an American original. She’s met everyone and is up for anything. Her next collaboration or scripture meeting could involve anyone from Michael Moore to Paris Hilton. Or both.
“When I was a little girl” says Tammy Faye “I would be riding up and down on my bike in International Falls Minnesota I had one prayer: God please don’t let my life be boring.”
“Honey, He answered that prayer.”

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